A Different Perspective
Undergraduates Austin Colon, Shane Buck, and Steven Pretlove didn’t head for college straight out of high school. Instead, they entered the military. And after serving their country, they enrolled in community college before transferring into Santa Clara University. They share all the typical student concerns of homework, midterms, and finals, but to that load these three service members add challenges like maintaining Yellow Ribbon funding, a full-time job, and raising a family. Here's a recap on how each made his way to SCU.
Time to Do the Math
At age 15, when Austin Colon decided he would join the Marine Corps and make a career of it, he pretty much quit caring about school. Too young to enlist on his own, his parents insisted he choose something besides infantry, and he wound up doing tactical signals intelligence as an electronics warfare operator/analyst. One year into his five-year commitment, he determined the Corps really wasn’t for him, but he liked the work he was doing. He started to think about going back to school. While deployed, he started taking classes online.
After his discharge and a year at community college, he has now completed his first quarter at Santa Clara as a sophomore. “It’s definitely more challenging and moves at a faster pace,” Austin said, “but I’ve learned a lot and like [how] all my classes are directly applicable to engineering. I chose a private university because I could use voc rehab to add benefits on top of the GI Bill. It pays for schooling with no cap on tuition and provides supplies.”
At first, SCU was only another stepping stone for him. “Originally, I thought I would apply at Stanford once I had my prerequisites taken care of,” he said, “but now I think I’ll stay here. This school has everything that I need, a great reputation, and I can graduate faster.”
Austin hopes to work in intelligence. “For now, the plan is to do the B.S. degree, focus on communications, try for my master’s, intern with the FBI or CIA to get my security clearance back, and see if I like the environment. But you never know what’s going to happen. In the military, I always felt like I was punching above my weight, working on stuff I didn’t fully understand and Googling things to try to fill in the blanks. I had no technical background in engineering and I hated math in high school—I thought Algebra 2 would be my last math class ever,” he said with a laugh. “Now I’m taking Math 14 and Differential Equations. I understand what it’s used for and I enjoy it. If I’d asked myself in high school what I’d be doing now, I never would have thought the Marine Corps would lead me to choose this path.”
From E5 Mate to EE Master
After high school Shane Buck worked as a photographer at a crash test facility, where a peer got him interested in joining the Navy. Talking with a recruiter, he found an interest in nuclear power. After a couple of years in South Carolina and Virginia at Naval Nuclear Power Training Command, he served as an E5 Electrician’s Mate stationed in San Diego for another four years. His job included performing calibration, vibration analysis, and thermal imaging while standing watch as load dispatcher for an aircraft carrier’s electrical distribution system. Toward the end of his tour, he was recruited by Orion International to work at Vantage Data Centers’ Bay Area branch, where he solves a myriad of customers’ “strange problems,” he says, involving harmonics on power supply, wave form analysis, cooling controls, and more.
Shane began taking classes at two local community colleges to satisfy prerequisites for transferring into Santa Clara’s electrical engineering program. “I know a couple of EEs who graduated from SCU and recommend it highly, so I toured the campus and was impressed by the way it looked,” he said. He’s now in his second year.
He’s made the most of—and even offered to others—some practical opportunities. “I’ve loved that the professors in some classes bring in industry guest speakers, who are normally alumni, to discuss topics from a different perspective. And we’ve taken field trips and toured Tesla, Facebook, Stanford Linear Accelerator, and other places. It’s fascinating to see some of the stuff the general public doesn’t get access to and adds a lot to the curriculum,” he said. Doing his part to open some eyes, Shane arranged for a tour of his company as well.
Shane plans to start his master’s program next year. “I still have time on the GI Bill, and the Yellow Ribbon program helps ends meet. Also, people at work are very supportive of me. After getting my master’s, who knows?” Vantage is expanding quickly, so I expect there will be opportunities for growth there.”
Completing the Puzzle
Steven Pretlove always had an interest in electrical engineering. “When I was a kid, I was extremely inquisitive and thought electricity was fascinating,” he recalled. At 20, he had been studying electrical engineering for a year in New Orleans when he became a father for the first time and shortly thereafter joined the Navy, where he worked as a SONAR technician.
Turns out the Navy wasn’t for him, so after being discharged, he worked in Kentucky in the pool and spa industry, diagnosing and repairing electrical/electronic control systems and electromechanical devices. Soon, he came back to California to start his own business in San Diego, where he had been stationed. Unfortunately, that was 2008, right before the economy tanked. But Steven persisted; he found a job in the same industry, worked there several years, and soon met his current wife.
Eventually, they moved to the Bay Area. Steven worked in the IT field while his wife established her career as an attorney. Five years and two kids later, he enrolled in community college. “I wanted to fill in what I could there,” he said. “I was on a track toward UC Berkeley, but the commute was just too difficult. I had heard about Santa Clara, and it turned out to be a good fit. I’m going to school full-time and just finished my first quarter here. I’m very happy with the instructors. They are absolute experts in their field,” he said.
Steven said his background working with electrical systems and electronics has been a big plus. “You have more confidence in your ability to absorb the material when you have practical experience to apply it to. You have a puzzle to put these new pieces of knowledge into,” he explained.
Steven’s interests include electrical properties of materials and pursuing a master’s degree. But for the moment he is looking to see where the curriculum takes him. He’s keeping his options open.
These three Broncos who took different paths to SCU bring different perspectives, each supplying engineering excellence in his own way.
Jan 28, 2019
From left: Austin Colon, Shane Buck, Steven Pretlove